The clock is ticking for the NFL and the NFL Players Association to reach a deal on a new labor contract -- and they may need a Hail Mary pass to save the upcoming season.
Representatives from the NFL and the players' union met again today, hours before the current NFL labor contract expires, in a last-minute effort to hammer out a deal as reports swirled about a possible deadline extension, indicating some progress toward a final agreement.
ESPN's Christ Mortensen reported that NFL owners made a "significant proposal" in today's sessions, and the union is waiting for answers on "fundamental core issues" to determine whether the midnight deadline will be pushed back.
If the deadline hits without an agreement, the owners could move to lock out the players, keeping them out of work. That means no spring practice, no free agency deals and possibly no 2011 season.
The players still have a final option before the midnight deadline. They can decide to decertify or dissolve the union. That would prevent the owners from locking them out, but the players would give up their right to collectively bargain. It also doesn't ensure that a deal will be reached so that football can be played again in the fall.
President Obama weighed in on the issue today during a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House, saying that he hopes it can be resolved without his intervention, because he has "a lot of other stuff to do."
The president started off by noting that both sides in the NFL labor dispute are well-compensated: "You've got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars; you've got players who are making millions of dollars.
"My working assumption, at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and, you know, paying for their kid's college education, is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening," said Obama.
Obama said that an industry that takes in $9 billion a year in revenue should be able to figure out how to divide that up in a "sensible way" and be true to the sport's fans, who the president said are "the ones who obviously allow for all the money that they're making."
"[We] want the fans to know that we're trying. We're trying," said Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice-president and general counsel. "We understand our responsibility, and if we don't get it done we know we'll let them down."
The standoff between the league, team owners and players centers on two key issues.
First, there's revenue sharing. NFL players currently receive 60 percent of the league's $9 billion in annual revenue, but team owners say that's unsustainable given the economic downturn. They want to take an additional $1 billion for themselves, reducing the players' share by 9 to 18 percent.
Second, there's the schedule. The league wants to add two more regular season games, for a total of 18. Players say that would increase their risk of injury, and they deserve compensation. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that there are "no deal breakers," but that the status quo is "not acceptable."